27 May 2006

Are you ready for a revelation?

Ascension Sunday 2006: Acts 1.1-11; Eph 1.17-23; Mark 16.15-20
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX

Jesus left us on Good Friday, dying on the cross, praying to his Father for us, praying that we might be forgiven in our ignorance. His Father raised him up from the dead three days later, emptying the tomb, and Jesus, newly glorified, newly transfigured, again prayed for us, for our maturity in faith, for our mission as apostles, and for our unity as his body as we witness to the world.

Today, he ascends to the Father, bringing to an end forty days of appearances to his frightened and befuddled disciples, forty days of shoring up their strength, squashing their worrisome doubts, and proving again and again that he is who he says he is: the only Son of God, killed, resurrected, transfigured, and now ascended all for one purpose, all for one reason: so that you, that we, might be saved from the slavery to sin and live forever.

Are you ready for your revelation? Are you ready for your eyes to be opened? Are you ready to hear what the Lord would have of you?

Paul writes to the Ephesians: “Brothers and Sisters: May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, give you a Spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in the knowledge of him.” This seems a fairly innocuous prayer, something you might expect any priest to mutter over someone seeking a blessing; a small prayer of sending or maybe a prayer for discernment. Hardly. This is a prayer for salvation, a prayer for your eternal life with the Father. Paul is not just muttering a simple prayer here. He is pronouncing the descent of the Holy Spirit on his brothers and sisters, asking God the Father to split the heavens and show Himself to his children so that they might know Him and reveal Him to others.

Notice the order of the prayer: first, they require a spirit of wisdom; then, they require a spirit of revelation; and only then do they receive “knowledge of him.” What is a spirit of wisdom and a spirit of revelation? A spirit of This or That is always a share in, a participation in the thing itself. To be given a Spirit of Wisdom is to be bonded to wisdom, to be given a Spirit of Revelation is to be bonded to revelation. The idea here is that Paul is asking the Father to impart to, to gift the Ephesians with a glimpse of His Divine Nature, a peek, a BIG peek at His Face.

Wisdom is the gift of being able to arrange everything in your life—family, work, recreation, religious duty—everything in you life in light of, according to divine expectations, the will of the Father for you, and according to how the Father is perfecting your human nature in His grace with your cooperation. In other words, to possess a spirit of wisdom is to live aligned with God, seduced by His grace, and obedient to His Word. In this spirit of willful cooperation, full assent, and active participation, He will make Himself known to you, give you a Spirit of Revelation.

If to be given a spirit of this or that is to share in this or that fully, then to be given a Spirit of Revelation is to share in Revelation Himself. The Father has revealed Himself to us in scripture, a closed revelation; in created things, a revelation we continue to struggle to understand in our natural and human sciences; and, finally and uniquely, in His only Son, Jesus Christ. In granting us a Spirit of Revelation, the Father both shows us Who He Is and makes us Show-ers; meaning, in the act of revealing Himself, he makes us revealers as well, witnesses; we become a means of revealing Him, ways of showing others His divine nature. You and I are revelations of God to one another! Incomplete revelations, of course—no person has fully revealed God or can reveal God fully but Christ—so, of course, we’re incomplete revelations but we are uniquely revealing in our particular, perfecting natures.

How else can you do what Jesus has ordered you to do? Go to the whole world, proclaim my gospel to every creature, preach everywhere! How do we do this except as those possessed by the spirits of wisdom and revelation, sharers in the one purpose, the one way, the one truth, and the one life?

To know God is know the hope that belongs to His call to us to be His voices. If He calls us to witness, then our faithful witness cannot fail. Hope is our desire for God and an assurance from Him that we have Him now and that we will have Him forever. Hoping is not confident gambling; hoping is resting, relaxing, trusting in a God Who has never and will never fail us. Hope is just one of the riches of His glory, just one treasure we inherit as His holy ones, as His sons and daughters—it is the habit of doing good knowing that good will be multiplied; it becomes for us the habit of confidently expecting good things to come from our obedience, from our eager willingness to be signs of God’s presence in the world.

Are you ready for your revelation? Are you ready for your eyes to be opened? Are you ready to hear what the Lord would have of you?

Christ ascends to heaven forty days after his resurrection. The work of the Son in the flesh is done on earth and so he returns in the flesh to his Father and prepares to send the Holy Spirit, prepares to set his disciples on fire and give birth to the Church. He leaves them with the admonition to preach his Word universally and then promises to accompany them with wondrous signs, confirming their authenticity and authority as his voice in the world.

Go and proclaim the gospel. This is your charge as well. His ascension to the right hand of the Father marks the moment that you were ordered to an apostleship, given the command to be one who reveals God to the world. So, why are you sitting there looking at the sky? Why are you waiting to do what Christ would have you do? And if you are doing what Christ would have you do, are you ready to work harder, longer, and more sacrificially? Are you ready to be the star of this day’s paschal mystery? Are you ready to receive the power promised by Christ? The power to royally serve, the power to reveal Christ to those who have closed the eyes of their heart, the power to hope unconditionally—without looking to the sky for signs—to hope for his return to us in glory.

Are you ready for a revelation from God? Are you ready to be a revelation of God? If not, get ready: that rushing wind you hear and that distant rumbling you feel, that, brothers and sisters, is the promised coming of the Holy Spirit!—the guaranteed arrival of authority, power, and dominion; the promised breath of wisdom, our Advocate, the very fire of our witness.

26 May 2006

The odor of sanctity? A perfectly cooked heart!

6th Week of Easter 2006 (F)/St. Philip Neri: Acts 18.9-18; John 16.20-23
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Albert the Great Priory

The Second Apostle of Rome and the saint of joy, Philip Neri, was a very odd man. Likely, he would find pictures of himself posted on today’s blogs with captions like “Another nutty priest being a hippy” or “Why won’t the bishops put a stop to this nonsense?” Philip had a certain way of bringing joy to stodgy hearts, crashing through reluctant spirits, and burning away pretension and guile. Story after story of this joyous priest emphasizes his joy in the Lord. My favorite: after his death, an autopsy revealed that he had died as a result of an enlarged heart—his heart had grown too big to be contained in his chest and it had broken free!

Will your heart grow too big for your ribs to contain? Will your joy in the Lord splash around in your soul until it sloshes over the sides and soaks those around you? Philip Neri often spoke of burning from within, a fire that had settled into his body and consumed him in the Lord’s love, a fire that passionately and patiently licked at his spirit until he could only burst out in sobbing ecstasy, pleading with Lord is give his fire of joy—just a little—to others.

What is this joy that so diligently and delightfully consumed Philip from the inside out? Aquinas teaches us that joy is the proper effect of charity, that is, joy follows love, joy is an act of love, the behavior one would expect from loving properly. The opposite of joy is sloth. Sloth is not just physical laziness as we tend to think, but, as Aquinas, paraphrasing John Damascene, argues, sloth “is an oppressive sorrow, which…so weighs upon man's mind, that he wants to do nothing”(ST II.II.35.1). Sloth is a sorrow, an aversion to the spiritual goods of love and joy, a sorrow that robs us of our passion for seeking, finding, and doing the good and from seeking, finding, and being with the Father—our final Good.

If sloth is an oppressive sorrow, then love is our liberating joy—we are freed from weeping and mourning our losses, our condition, our pasts, our pain; freed from our grief, our suffocating anguish and our frozen hearts unable to move in mercy for others. Jesus tells the disciples that they are mourning, weeping for his absence, enduring the pain of his murder on the cross, and the prospect that, despite his time with them after his death, he will ascend to the Father soon. Their sorrow makes sense—a woman in labor feels intense pain until the baby is born, then joy! The disciples’ sorrow will end: “…I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

What robs you of your joy? What is it in your life that prevents you from benefiting fully from the effects of the Father’s love for you? Sin, certainly. But what specifically? Do you nurse disappointment and grief? Do you wallow in being wounded? Have you become your wounds, living day-to-day as a sorrowful injury? Maybe it’s betrayal you nurture. Or has someone denied you something you feel entitled to? What do you mourn? Why do you weep? What are you getting out of your anguish, your anger, your grief?

Are you joyful? Will we open you up after death and find that your heart, having grown too large for your chest, has broken free and spilled its joy, its love into the world?

Pray that we find your heart nicely roasted, perfectly cooked in the fire of Christ’s joy.

22 May 2006

Telling us what we need to remember

6Th Week of Easter 2006 (M): Acts 16.11-15, John 15.26-16.4
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

I’m going to tell you a secret. I’m telling you this secret so that you will think I am important and you will admire me. No, that’s not right. I’m telling you this secret so that you will repeat it and look like an idiot in front of others. No. Got it! How’s this: I’m telling you this secret so that when our enemies come for you you will remember both the secret and my willingness to share it with you and both will comfort you and give you strength.

Jesus has been very busy these last few days, sharing secrets with the disciples, telling them important things so that they will know who and what he is and remember who and what he is after he is gone and the real trouble with the Powers That Be begins. Jesus tells the disciples that there is no greater love than to die for a friend. He tells them that no slave is greater than his master. He tells them everything the Father has told him so that they may know joy and know it completely. And now, this morning, he tells them that he will send from the Father an Advocate, the Holy Spirit, to testify to him and this Spirit of Truth will help his disciples to testify to him as well. Why? So that they may not fall away when they are booted out of the synagogues and killed as offerings to God.

Here’s what Jesus knows all too well: that the good news of salvation he preaches is possible only b/c he and the Father are one and b/c he will suffer, die, and rise again to bring that good news to its perfection. Those who fear this playing out of history fear him and his task b/c they do not know him nor do they know the Son. To bear witness to the Father and the Son with the spirited help of the Advocate is the principal job of those Jesus leaves behind And so, Jesus says to them: “I have told you this so that when your hour comes you may remember that I told you.”

All that the disciples remember of the Lord, everything he told them, taught them, showed them, everything he left with them is touched by the Spirit of Truth and is now our history, our back-story and the foundation stone of a faithful memory that not only comforts us in trial but pushes us out there to serve and witness, to be useful to our world as a people freed from sin and turned to love.

Watching this nation’s culture we are tempted to despair—our Enlightenment liberal democracy has become an Orwellian babysitter state! But here’s what we must remember: history trumps culture, salvation history trumps particular culture everytime; in other words, in the hearts and minds of the Christian witness living in the world, what matters is the memory passed on, the memory, the testimony of our creation, our fall, God’s faithfulness in calling us back to Him, our failures to hear his voice, His scandalous incarnation as Jesus Christ, and his even more scandalous death and resurrection for us.

This is what we must remember in a culture with a may-fly memory and an insatiable appetite for unruled passion: the Spirit of Truth is with us not to make us citizens better than most or enlightened souls suffering the flesh or self-righteous prigs driven to moralism; no, the Spirit of Truth is with us so that the history of our salvation, the memory of who and what is Jesus Christ is to us and for us might live in us and so that when we speak his word of mercy, his word of love, that Word crashes into the world as so obviously True and Right that no one may deny it.

Our witness to Christ in the world is our memory, handed on. And it cannot be a secret left untold.

21 May 2006

Ridiculous Commandment

6th Sunday of Easter 2006
Acts 10.25-26, 34-35, 44-48; 1 John 4.7-10; John 15.9-17
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St Paul’s Hospital, Dallas, TX

Jesus concludes this farewell in John with a simple enough admonition: “This I command you: love one another.” He has called his disciples friends and told them everything that he has heard from His Father. He’s told them that they are the chosen not the choosers. And he’s admonished them to bear fruit and ask of the Father what they need. Can’t you see the disciples sitting there with him, wide-eyed, expecting another astonishing revelation, some thundering pronouncement on the nature of divinity or redemption or the end times. And what does he say? He commands them to love one another! Uh? Love one another? Sure. Says you. You’re God. You are Love. Loving is what You do b/c Love is Who You Are. Not so easy for us poor creatures. Have you looked at these people you want us to love? Have you talked to them?! Do you know what you’re asking?

Ah. You see, there’s the problem: he isn’t asking us to love one another. He’s commanding us to love one another. And the difference between asking and commanding tells us all we need to know about the nature of Christian love, of charity in the Spirit.

Jesus says to his disciples: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you.” How does the Father love the Son? The Father and the Son love one another absolutely, unconditionally, without prejudice or complaint. They are One in the love that is the Holy Spirit. And Jesus loves us in exactly this way: completely, categorically, without reservation or criticism. When we keep his commandments, we too remain in his love, we too are One with Him in the love that is the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus commands us to love one another, commands us to live day-to-day in the love of the Blessed Trinity.

Why? Why does Jesus command us to love one another? On the face of it, it is a ridiculous command. Love cannot be commanded. It can be encouraged or exhorted or reciprocated or found. But commanded? How can a passion be commanded? You either love or you don’t. Simply put: love can be commanded, ordered when we understand that love is also about acting, willing the good for another.

Love is not just a passion; it is also the movement of the body and soul toward goodness for another, a movement of the body and soul toward needing the best for others, wanting deeply what is right and true for your neighbors. If we limit love to the smallness of a cuddly tingling in our bellies, make it into little more than a physical reaction to physical attraction, we make it impossible to obey Christ; essentially, we make it impossible for us to know and live joy. Think about it: if love is only about the passion we have for those we find attractive, then we cannot love one another in the way that the Father loves the Son nor in the way that the Son loves us. We fail in joy.

Jesus tells his disciples outright: if you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love. He explains: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” The commandment to love is a revelation, it reveals to us and for us the way to perfected joy, our means of achieving finished delight, total peace. To fail in joy, then, is spiritual suicide; it is the death of our peace, the impossibility of ever finding delight in the Lord—to fail in joy is to fail to love.

Ask yourself: how do I fail to love? When do I simply refuse to will the good, refuse to move body and soul toward others in mercy? When do I narrow my love to immediate family, friends and fail to emulate the Father’s love for His Son by failing to love effusively even the apparently unlovable? Who is it that I cannot love, will not love? Who is it that does not deserve my love? Who will I not love until he/she loves me first? Do I withhold my love in exchange for favors, good behavior, attention? Do I use my love as a weapon to hurt enemies and friends? Is my love a costume for show or a mask for the public or a flashy piece of glass pretending to be a diamond—dazzling and deceiving?

Ask yourself: did Jesus fail to love? Did he simply refuse to will the good, refuse to move his body and soul toward others in mercy? Did he narrow his love to just his immediate family, friends? Did he fail to emulate the Father’s love? Did he fail to love effusively even the apparently unlovable? Who is it that Christ cannot love, will not love? Who is it that does not deserve Jesus’ love? Who will Christ not love until he/she loves him first? Does Jesus withhold his love in exchange for favors, good behavior, attention? Does Jesus use his love as a weapon to hurt enemies and friends? Is Christ’s love a costume for show or a mask for the public? Is his love for us dazzling and deceiving?

We are commanded to love one another in the same way that the Father loves Jesus and in the same way that Jesus loves us. When we disobey this command, when we choose apathy, spiritual sloth, we choose the death of our joy; we kill deliberately our peace, our delight, and we rot the fruits of the Spirit. Rushing in to fill the vacuum left by dead and dying fruit: anxiety, anger, restlessness, dangerous curiosity/ears itching for spiritual novelty, despair, melancholy, loneliness, mistrust, desperation, pain, and a life in lived in constant emergency, constant distress.

If love brings perfect joy and you are not joyful in the Lord, then perhaps you need to think seriously about how you love or about how you fail to love. It is not too bold to claim that most, if not all, of our spiritual diseases can be diagnosed as failures to obey our Lord’s commandment to love one another. John writes to us in his letter this morning: “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” No love, no God, no joy, no peace.

The disease of spiritual apathy, to be without a passion for goodness, to be willfully despairing, this is the greatest gift we can give the Devil. He wants our disobedience, our rebellion against the Father’s love but what he wants more than our disobedience is our allegiance to the lie that our Father will not forgive us our violence against His mercy, our resistance to his love. The Devil yearns for our Yes to the proposition that this or that sin is too big, too deep, too horrible, too frequent to be forgiven, to be forgotten in love. Reach this point in your spiritual life and you have delighted the Devil; his joy, perverse and twisted though it is, is complete when you fail to love and when you come to believe that God is capable of failing in love. To believe that God will not, cannot forgive you is atheism.

Love one another because you are commanded to love. Love one another because you are made to love. Love one another because you are no longer slaves but friends. Love one another because Christ loved us in his suffering, his death, and his rising again. Love one another because to do anything less, anything smaller or meaner is to delight the Devil and forsake your soul.